When you're fairly new to hydraulic system management, it's easy to overlook the little signs that should be taken as big warnings. Whether it's a damaged line or a leaky fitting, anything that disrupts the delicate balance in your hydraulic system can be seriously concerning. Here are a few of the most common signs of trouble to help new managers spot issues within their hydraulic systems.
How Is Your Cycle Time?
Hydraulic systems operate on a consistent, perpetual cycle. The amount of time required to complete that cycle shouldn't change if everything is working as it should be in the system. If you notice that your hydraulic system is taking longer to complete a cycle, that's a key indication that there's a problem with the pressure and flow in the lines.
When the pressure isn't where it should be in your hydraulic lines, the cylinders and other actuators aren't getting the pressure they need to function at their best. In most cases, a pressure problem is due to a leak somewhere in the system. If it's an external leak, you should be able to see it because the fluid will pool wherever it's leaking. Check your hose fittings especially, because a loose fitting is a common culprit.
If the leak is internal, that can be harder to spot. Internal leaks are caused by fluid passing around pistons or relieve valves that are improperly configured. If you can't see any signs of an external leak, it's important to have the whole system inspected. While you're waiting, consider checking each of the components for an increased operating temperature. Leaks will generate heat, which will thin the hydraulic fluid. THis leads to increased leaks and greater heat generation, so you should see a marked difference in the operating temperature of the area where the leak is present.
What Do You Hear?
Working in any kind of production environment is naturally noisy. Because of that, it's sometimes hard to hear changes in the sounds of specific machines. Take time to listen to each of your hydraulic machines regularly to be sure that they don't sound out of the ordinary.
Sounds like screeching, squealing, whining, and knocking all indicate air in the fluid or cavitation in the lines. When there's air in your hydraulic fluid, known as aeration, it often causes knocking sounds and banging when the system runs. You might also notice that your hydraulic fluid is somewhat foamy. Watch how your actuators move, too. Air in the fluid will cause the actuators to move much more erratically than they normally do.
To minimize the risk of these types of issues, keep up with routine maintenance and make sure your hose fittings are new and secure. Talk with a hydraulic maintenance tech about regular inspections to keep your system running at its best.